Memory in a Multicultural Society

The history of persecution and extermination of European Jews holds a central place in German-Israeli relations. In the last decades, however, the composition of each society respectively has changed. Immigration and demographic developments have led to cultural and social diversity. This is true too for the new generation of young people who take part in school exchanges between both countries. Yet, the forms of remembrance reproduced in these exchanges no longer satisfy the biographies and thoughts of these young students. Thirty students from the Yad-be-Yad School in Jerusalem and the Schiller High School (Gymnasium) in Berlin are discovering their own way of looking back to the past. Together they are searching for ways to discuss and debate the past, ways in which all can participate.

One’s own family biography is the starting point of this journey, a journey that is moderated by the Memorial Center House of the Wannsee Conference in Berlin and the Ghetto Fighters’ Museum Beit Lohamei Ha Ghettaot. Where do these young participants come from both literally and metaphorically? How is the past framed or talked about in their families? Finding answers to these questions is an important part of the preparation for the trips to Germany and Israel for everyone involved. One’s own history – and the history of others – is what provides the foundation on which the young participants during their stay can draw encouragement and what has guided them to unknown cities, neighborhoods, museums, or memorial centers. The challenge is a particular one. The participants set out to learn more about the culture and politics of memory in both countries, and as a second step to come up with their own suggestions for how memory should be formed. This is not an easy job, but the students can rely on the methods of Gestalt pedagogy to assist them in taking on this task. In the end, the students’ designs for a public memory comply to their own narratives as well as to the memory of the Shoah itself.

Together with the Ghetto Fighters’ Museum Lohamei Ha Ghettaot in Israel, the Memorial Center House of the Wannsee Conference in Berlin monitors and moderates this special student exchange program: From January to September 2011, 30 students from the Yad-be-Yad School (Hand-in-Hand School) in Jerusalem and the Schiller High School (Gymnasium) in Berlin are coming together to discuss the meaning of public and individual memory within the framework of German-Israeli relations. Alongside separate preparatory meetings, a main part of the program is the joint effort on the ground in both countries. A young Israeli volunteer at the House of the Wannsee Conference and a young German volunteer at the Yad-be-Yad School are carrying out the project’s planning. The program initiators will present the project’s results at further education seminars for teachers and education multipliers.